Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, another maritime standoff akin to the Tampa has seen Italy and Malta publicly brawl for four days over the plight of rescued human cargo aboard a Turkish container ship in the Mediterranean.

The Pinar E plucked 140 living people and one corpse, reportedly from Africa, out of the sea after their two smugglers’ vessels started sinking. The nearest port of call was Lampedusa in Italy, but the ship was in a Maltese search and rescue area.

Crikey blogger Andrew Bartlett discussed people smuggling in an international context by comparing the case of the Pinar and the Tampa in his blog last night. He says, “One notable difference from the Tampa scenario is that… despite the current stand off, no one is suggesting elite armed military personnel need to board and take over the vessel”.

Italy this morning conceded to allow the “migrants” (that’s what they call Boat People in the rest of the world) ashore for humanitarian reasons. But that doesn’t mean they’re stepping down, instead they’ll be taking the issue of asylum seekers on rusty, leaky, sinking ships to the EU.

Here’s what the global media are saying:

Italians insist Malta should have taken migrants. The Italian government ”has decided to let humanitarian reasons prevail,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said, ”Malta should have taken them in,” Frattini told state TV. A Foreign Ministry statement said the decision was made ”exclusively in consideration of the painful humanitarian emergency aboard the cargo ship” and that its acceptance of the migrants ”must not in any way be understood as a precedent nor as a recognition of Malta’s reasons” for refusing them. — New York Times

Malta says sending the ship to Italy was the most logical thing to do . The migrants were initially picked up by the Turkish cargo ship Pinar on Thursday, after the two boats they were travelling on started sinking. Major Clinton O’Neill, the spokesman for the Maltese army rescue co-ordination centre, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that the Pinar was diverted to make the rescue after it was identified as the nearest vessel. “We then instructed the ship to proceed to the nearest safe haven. It was Lampedusa,” he said. — Al Jazeera

The situation could not have gone on much longer. Ahead of the ship’s arrival at an Italian port, an Italian coast guard vessel was due to take 10 of the migrants, including a pregnant woman, off the vessel for urgent medical attention. The decomposing body of a second pregnant woman who died at sea before being picked up by the Turkish ship, had been kept in one of the ship’s life boats, said UN spokeswoman Laura Boldrini. Speaking yesterday before Italy announced it would take in the migrants, Boldrini warned that the migrants “could not go on much longer”. — The Guardian

Euronews has a video and points out that 300 migrants had already been accepted into Italy last week:

Illegal immigration is a political issue in Italy too… but there are many, many more than in Australia. The number of illegal migrants arriving in Italy by boat rose to 36,900 in 2008, a 75 percent increase over the year before. The vast majority of them, 31,000 in total, landed on the tiny island of Lampedusa. Illegal immigration is a divisive issue in Italy and is high on the political agenda. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to crack down on illegal migrants. — Radio Netherlands

Peter Fray

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